In a shortened 60-game 2020 season, Auburn fans got to see six former Tigers in the MLB this season; five players and one manager. With playoffs in full swing and a World Series crown on the way, here’s a look at how the regular season went for Auburn’s alumni.
David Ross — Chicago Cubs Manager
The former Tigers backstop is in his first season as a manager for the Chicago Cubs. Chicago hired him this season to replace manager Joe Maddon, who is now the skipper for the Angels. The Cubs, who finished 34-26, captured the division title in the notably weak N.L. Central. They were aided by outfielder Ian Happ, who slashed .258/.361/.505 on the season, and Yu Darvish’s magnificent 2.01 ERA. Right fielder Jason Heyward, now known mostly for his defense, had a return to form this year at the plate, amassing a 129 OPS+.
The season, however, was not without its hiccups, as some of the North Side’s key performers took a step back this season, such as flashy shortstop Javy Baez, power bat Kyle Schwarber and former MVP Kris Bryant all having below-average seasons at the plate. The most glaring issue at Wrigley Field this season was the bullpen, as setup stalwarts Craig Kimbrel and Kyle Ryan both had an ERA above 5.0.
When gauging his performance as a manager, it’s important to realize how much talent Ross has on this roster. From the games played this season, his lineups and direction look really good; however, his bullpen management and coaching his star hitters will need to improve. If he can get his hitters to hit as they once did, David Ross and the Chicago Cubs could see plenty of success.
Josh Donaldson — Minnesota Twins Third Baseman
It has been almost a decade and a half since Donaldson played the hot corner in Auburn. After signing a four-year deal worth $92 million in Minnesota, Donaldson struggled to prove his worth. After hitting .182 in July, he missed all of August due to a right calf injury.
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While only playing 28 games, Donaldson’s hitting splits tell an interesting tale about his season. He was a much better hitter against RHP than LHP (.890 OPS vs .630) and was also significantly better at the plate in away games, with a nearly 1.000 OPS when not in Minneapolis. While his numbers actually looked pretty good for a 34-year-old infielder, his numbers are boosted by small sample size, and Twins fans would like to see him on the field more consistently for his hefty contract to be worth it.
Casey Mize — Detroit Tigers Pitcher
The former Auburn ace and first overall pick made his major league debut this year in a start against the Chicago White Sox, where he let in 3 ER in 4.1 innings. The year did not get any better for Detroit’s prized prospect, as he amassed a 6.99 ERA in seven games. He was often pulled early, not only for poor performance, but also to keep his arm healthy heading into the offseason.
Despite the poor statistics, many of Mize’s attributes that made him one of the sport’s most exciting prospects were shown this season. His fastball was placed well with high velocity, and his splitter dropped the jaws of plenty of writers and commentators, who praised its late sink and swing-and-miss capability.
Mize’s struggles on the mound this year are to be expected, as a rookie in a weird season facing some of baseball’s best offenses. However, concerns about his breaking balls and high-risk mechanics will make for an interesting offseason for Mize, as Detroit does not want to risk their first overall pick being injury-prone throughout his career.
Detroit missed the playoffs this season, finishing 23-35.
Ben Braymer — Washington Nationals Pitcher
Another former Tiger who got his MLB debut this season, Braymer only appeared in three games this season for the World Champion Nationals. While only going for 2.1 innings in his first two starts, Braymer struggled, amassing a WHIP of 3.43. However, in a game in Miami on Sept. 20, Braymer hurled five scoreless innings en route to a 15-0 Washington victory. Braymer got the start and the win due to it being the second leg of a double header.
Despite missing the playoffs this year, the Nationals hope to bounce back from their injuries and make another playoff run. Braymer will attempt to crack a very tough rotation in 2021, which features Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.
Garrett Cooper — Miami Marlins First Baseman
Playing on 2020’s surprise playoff team in Miami, the former Auburn standout had a breakout year at the plate, slashing .283/.353/.500 in 2020, finishing with eight home runs in only 34 games. With missing time due to COVID-19 and minor leg injuries, Cooper split time at first base and DH, which was only available to N.L. teams starting this season.
Despite the injuries, Cooper proved to be Miami’s second-best hitter, behind shortstop Miguel Rojas. After missing over a week’s worth of games due to a team-wide COVID-19 breakout, the Marlins surprised everyone this year by finishing second in the N.L. East this season and locking up a playoff spot.
Grant Dayton — Atlanta Braves Pitcher
Former Auburn starter, Dayton has been in a relief role for the Braves the past two seasons. Originally drafted by Miami, he was traded to the Dodgers and made relief appearances in LA in 2016 and 2017. After Tommy John surgery, he was Designated for Assignment and picked up by the nearby Atlanta Braves.
Despite the shortened season, Dayton has pitched more in 2020 than in any of his other MLB seasons, finishing with an outstanding ERA of 2.30 in 27.1 IP. Often used as a middle reliever, he often only used a fastball and a curve to mow through the lineups. While Statcast indicates that his ERA is inflated by luck and weak hitters, his performance this year will likely net him some high leverage situations in the postseason as well as in 2021.
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